Chicago Theater Review: AIN’T NO CRYING THE BLUES (IN THE MEMORY OF HOWLIN WOLF) (Black Ensemble Theater)

by Lawrence Bommer on June 10, 2013

in Theater-Chicago

EVERY NIGHT A FULL MOON

Lawrence Bommers Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Black Ensemble Theater's "Ain’t No Crying the Blues (In The Memory of Howlin Wolf)."Looking back on his life and sounds from his death in 1976, Chester Arthur Burnett, now forever called Howlin Wolf, is the complex crooner at the heart of Jackie Taylor’s latest bio musical. Persuading himself that he still lives if he’s yet remembered, Rick Stone’s memorable musician (first created for the Black Ensemble Theater a decade ago) embarks on a two hour bout of memory-mongering, a surefire excuse to recreate, from the heart out, 19 songs that catalogue his career. There’s a reason why the blues sound more authentic in Chicago and this show shows why.

Lawrence Bommers Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Black Ensemble Theater's "Ain’t No Crying the Blues (In The Memory of Howlin Wolf)."Ain’t No Crying the Blues lets Stone, sexy and foxy in an eye-popping blue lamé suit, recall a larger-than-life Chicago blues sensation and grand influence on today’s chart-busters. We meet his vicious mother but not his deserting dad. We learn – a bit too much – about his live-long rivalry with Chicago’s other male blues king, Muddy Waters, whose mojo is working very well in Dwight Neal’s impersonation. Mr. Wolf explains his exploitation by Chicago’s white-run Chess Records who finally granted him royalties, his lifelong love of his wonderful wife Lil (a solid Kylah Williams), his European tour in 1963 with the likes of Big Mama Norton, and the diabetes that dogged his final concerts.

Rambunctiously staged by Rueben D. Echoles, backed up by a superb band under the faultless Robert Reddric, and neatly illustrated by Matthew Harter’s projections, Stone cooks up the perfect storm of the belter’s signature numbers – “Red Rooster,” Lawrence Bommers Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Black Ensemble Theater's "Ain’t No Crying the Blues (In The Memory of Howlin Wolf)."“Going Down Slow,” “I Ain’t Superstitious,” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go” – until the audience is howling too.

There are some awkward pauses in the second act and a bit too much repetition in the script. But Taylor’s tribute is meant for the heart, not the head, and the music delivers the legend. The rest is up to Stone, who perfectly captures this rascal’s stooped strut, flailing arms, rubber-faced mugging, and that trademark howl which Wolf got from a yodeler on the vaudeville circuit. Some howls are forever.

Lawrence Bommers Stage and Cinema Chicago review of Black Ensemble Theater's "Ain’t No Crying the Blues (In The Memory of Howlin Wolf)."photos by Danny Nicholas

Ain’t No Crying the Blues
(In the Memory of Howlin Wolf)
Black Ensemble Theater
scheduled to end on August 11, 2013
for tickets call 773-769-4451
or visit http://www.blackensemble.org

for info on this and other Chicago Theater,
visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com

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